The countdown to the Super Bowl reminds me of what I consider by far the most culturally telling TV commercial of recent years. Here's what I had to say about it four years ago:
A man asks for a plastic bag at the supermarket checkout. Next thing you know, his head's slammed against the counter, and he's being cuffed by the Green Police. "You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy," sneers the enviro-cop, as the perp is led away. Cut to more Green Police going through your trash, until they find . . . a battery! "Take the house!" orders the eco-commando. And we switch to a roadblock on a backed-up interstate, with the Green Police prowling the lines of vehicles to check they're in environmental compliance.
If you watched the Super Bowl, you most likely saw this commercial. As my comrade Jonah Goldberg noted, up until this point you might have assumed it was a fun message from a libertarian think-tank warning of the barely veiled totalitarian tendencies of the eco-nanny state. Any time now, you figure, some splendidly contrarian type — perhaps Clint lui-même in his famous Gran Torino — will come roaring through flipping the bird at the stormtroopers and blowing out their tires for good measure. But instead the Greenstapo stumble across an Audi A3 TDI. "You're good to go," they tell the driver, and, with the approval of the state enforcers, he meekly pulls out of the stalled traffic and moves off. Tagline: "Green has never felt so right."
So the message from Audi isn't "You are a free man. Don't bend to the statist bullies," but "Resistance is futile. You might as well get with the program."
Strange. Not so long ago, car ads prioritized liberty. Your vehicle opened up new horizons: Gitcha motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure. . . . To sell dull automobiles to people who lived in suburban cul de sacs, manufacturers showed them roaring round hairpin bends, deep into forests, splashing through rivers, across the desert plain, invariably coming to rest on the edge of a spectacular promontory on the roof of the world offering a dizzying view of half the planet. Freedom!
But now Audi flogs you its vehicles on the basis that it's the most convenient way to submit to arbitrary state authority. Forty years ago, when they first began selling over here, it's doubtful the company would have considered this either a helpful image for a German car manufacturer or a viable pitch to the American male.
But times change. As Jonah Goldberg pointed out, all the men in the Audi ad are the usual befuddled effete new-male eunuchs that infest all the other commercials. The sort of milksop who'll buy the TDI and then, when the Green Police change their regulatory requirements six weeks later, obediently take it back to the shop and pay however many thousand bucks to have it brought it into compliance with whatever the whimsical tyrant's emissions regime requires this month.
While we're talking about "befuddled effete new-male eunuchs": "Climate Science Is For Sissies Says World's Greatest Atmospheric Physicist". Well, okay, not quite. The actual headline is "Climate Science Is For Second-Raters Says World's Greatest Atmospheric Physicist". Our old pal James Delingpole is referring to MIT prof Richard Lindzen's testimony to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee at Westminster this week. This exchange with the ghastly, condescending Tim Yeo was especially choice:
He went on:
"I've asked very frequently at universities: 'Of the brightest people you know, how many people were studying climate [...or meteorology or oceanography...]?' And the answer is usually 'No one.'"
And – warming to his theme:
"You look at the credentials of some of these people [on the IPCC] and you realise that the world doesn't have that many experts, that many 'leading climate scientists'".
Was Lindzen suggesting, asked Tim Yeo at this point, that scientists in the field of climate were academically inferior.
"Oh yeah," said Lindzen. "I don't think there's any question that the brightest minds went into physics, math, chemistry…"
Speaking of bright minds, Professor Eugene Volokh patiently explains why all those pieces yesterday from the great herd of leftie whippets gleefully chasing the same bogus snare about how I've singlehandedly "doomed" National Review are complete twaddle (as the publisher confirms to The Blaze).
On the subject of coercive climate conformism, Lowell Walker writes to The Fayetteville Observer:
In regard to Tim White's and Michael Mann's Jan. 26 opinion pieces: I happen to agree we're experiencing climate change. Is it manmade? Probably.
I think your paper would be one of the first to defend their right to say what they did, even if you don't agree with it. I certainly defend your right to say what you want on your opinion pages, no matter how wrong I think you are.
However, I think Mann's credibility would be enhanced if he refrained from suing magazines and people with whom he doesn't agree. National Review magazine and Mark Steyn disagreed with Mann's hockey stick graph and mocked him. As a public figure, he doesn't have the standing to sue, in my opinion. What is the First Amendment about?
Stephen L Carter, Professor Law at Yale University, comes round to the same view as Mr Walker in a column headlined "Climate Change Skeptics Have A Right To Free Speech, Too":
My sympathies as a fellow academic lie with Mann. And yet, as a believer in the First Amendment, I am troubled. I would rather that name-calling weren't a regular part of our public debate, but it is... Our constitutional tradition correctly makes it difficult for public figures to prevail. Close cases should go to the critic, no matter how nasty or uninformed. The preservation of robust dissent allows no other result, and robust dissent is at the heart of what it means to be America.
I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the cure for bad speech is good speech. Yes, it's a cliche. But it's also a useful reminder. Nobody is forced to enter public debate. Once you're there, it's rough and tumble. Unfair attacks are as common as dew and sunshine, and everybody's reputation takes a beating. That's the price of freedom.
The trouble is Dr Mann, demonstrating the same intolerance for dissent as those Greenstapo shock troops at the Super Bowl, isn't interested in the "rough and tumble" of "public debate" - in part because he's no good at it. That's why he refuses to debate even the mildest critics, and threatens to sue over parody songs and cartoon caricatures. As Michael Haugen rightly observes, "If Mann wins, the Thin Skin Guild wins":
Sorry, given the choice between Steyn speaking his mind, or Mann minding his speech for him, I'll take the witty foreigner over the easily bruised native.
Speaking of foreigners, you'll forgive me if I give a mirthless titter at Professor Carter's line about "the heart of what it means to be America". As I mentioned last night, eight years ago I said far worse things about Mann's "laughably fraudulent" hockey stick - not in a throwaway blog post but in Australia's national newspaper. Yet oddly enough he never sued or threatened to sue. If Mann wins, the upshot will be that you'll be able to challenge climate conformism in Oz and elsewhere - but not in the land of the First Amendment. As in that Super Bowl ad, you'd need to be cleared to go by the commissars.
So I'll just have to win. And I will.